In the sixth century AD, at the time of the birth of Muhammad (pbuh), the Arabian Peninsula was surrounded by a number of great empires. These empires were in a state of constant conflict, waging wars and claiming territories. The boarders of nations were constantly being redrawn, and at times whole nations would crumble under the advancing forces of a more vicious and powerful neighbor. However, in an age when the people of all of these nations had become accustomed to countless rulers, conquerors, philosophies, and religions, throughout all of this, Allah Almighty saw fit to protect the Arabian peninsula from these forces and allow it's inhabitants to roam free, with great pride in their freedom, never bowing to man-gods or rulers who claimed to be "incarnations" of mythological gods such as had become the fate of the Persians, the Romans, the Hindus, and many other nations surrounding them. Although steeped in paganism and idol worship, theirs was a simplistic and very basic sort of paganism as compared to the infinitely more complex and multifaceted paganism of the multi-cultured nations surrounding them, their religious philosophies, and their untold rituals.
The situation the Roman empire has been dealt with in some detail in previous chapters, so it will only be dealt with very briefly here (see chapters 1-3).
The Roman empire
The situation the Roman empire was far from enviable. The Byzantine Empire (the eastern part of the later Roman Empire), became a land of crippling taxation and rampant bribery. The citizens had become so frustrated with their miserable condition that civil unrest and rioting became commonplace. In the year 532C.E., during the rule of Justin I, only one single such riot resulted in the death of over thirty thousand citizens in the capital of Costantinople.
During this period, the amassing of material wealth and money by any means possible became a virtual obsession. The religious elite had become severely intolerant of unconformance to their beliefs and this resulted in massive bloodshed and campaigns of persecution. The rulers immersed themselves in all manner of luxury and indulgence, caring little what the cost of their entertainment might happen to be upon the citizens. Recreation and amusement consisted of blood sports of the utmost viciousness. Up to 80,000 people at a time would attend these events in huge coliseums in order to amuse themselves watching battles to the death at times between men and men, or at others between men and lions or other man-eating carnivores.
Egypt supplied both the grain that fed Rome and much of the government's revenue. The empire sucked this lush and fertile farm land dry under crippling taxation, tyrannical rule, and religious persecution in order to maintain the extravagant lifestyles of the elite ruling class. This sad state of affairs was no better in Syria which was ruled with an iron fist resulting in taxation so severs that the citizens found no recourse but to sell their children into slavery in order to pay their taxes.
Map & Live Weather of Saudi Arabia
The Iranian empire
Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Sassanian empire during this period as it had been the faith of the Persian kings since it was founded in the seventh century BC by Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). In ancient Iran, two groups of gods were worshipped, the Ahuras and the Daevas. The message of Zoroaster was that Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord of light, was the sole creator and lord of the world and that the worship of the Daevas was the worship of darkness and evil. Other ancient mythological gods were later revived throughout this land, the most noteworthy of them being Mithra (associated with the sun), and Anahita (associated with water and fertility) in addition to Ahura Mazda and his evil adversary Ahriman. The sacred literature of Zoroastrianism is found in the Avesta, only a small portion of which remains today.
The followers of this religion were required to worship the sun four times a day in addition to the worship of the moon, fire and water. A complex collection of rituals and practices were associated with these gods. This religion was modified later by such as Mani (Manes), c.216-c.276 who called for monasticism and celibacy, and Mazdak (fifth century AD), who called for a socialistic group ownership of both money and women. People would enter into one another's homes, lay claim to their property and wealth and take liberties with their women. Unemployment and disenchantment prevailed, and the citizens were utilized by their rulers as cheap fodder for their armies. In their desperate search for a meaning for their pitiful existence these citizens experimented with every conceivable philosophy from Eicureanism to monasticism and everything in-between. All of this eventually lead to the development of vast rifts between the different levels of this society.
During this period, bandits would sack the palaces of the rich, pillage and loot them and lay claim to the women. These new land owner's ignorance in matters of farming eventually lead to the ruin of the farm land. So disenchanted did the people become with the tyranny and abuse of their rulers that it later lead to a popular revolt by the farmers.
The rulers of this empire ascended the throne of their fathers through inheritance, ruling with an iron hand, crippling taxation, and the theory that this ruler was a god, the descendant of gods. This ruler would surround himself with all manner of rare and precious possessions including gold, rare animals, precious jewelry, fine clothing, exquisite furniture, imperial palaces, endless slaves, and delicate cuisine. Their life was indeed the stuff that fairytales were made of, and it has been recorded that when this regime finally fell before the Islamic empire, their ruler Yazdegird III (r. 632-51) fled his land with one thousand cooks, one thousand musicians, one thousand trainers for his tigers, one thousand hawk trainers, and other members of his royal staff, all the while considering himself to be in a very miserable and pitiful state of affairs.
In ancient times, this land had been the birthplace of many great advances in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, and many other disciplines. However, over the centuries, a steady decline in moral values and religious knowledge eventually lead in the sixth century C.E. to what many historians consider to be it's lowest state of decline.
During this period nakedness became commonplace even in the temples. Women became public property and changed hands through gambling. If a woman's husband were to die her existence would lose all meaning and remarriage was prohibited for her for the rest of her existence. Higher levels of society developed the ritual of "Seti" which required a widow of a nobleman to burn herself to death as a sign of faithfulness to her deceased husband.
The Aryan invaders and Brahmans developed a four-level classification for society called the Caste system, it consisted of:
1) The religious elite, or priests, called the "Brahmins". They were considered superior to all others and sinless.
2) The Ksatriyas, or warriors and rulers;
3) The Vaisyas, or merchants and farmers;
4) The Sudras, or peasants and laborers.
There was also a fifth class called "Panchamas", or Untouchables. They include those whose occupations require them to handle unclean objects. It is speculated that the Untouchables were originally assigned such lowly tasks because of their non-Aryan origins. The law stated that if an untouchable stretched out his hand or his stick against a Brahman then his hand would be chopped off. And if he kicked a Brahman then his leg would be severed. And if an Untouchable claimed to teach a Brahman then he would be made to drink boiling oil. Under their law the punishment for the killing of an untouchable was equal to that of the killing of a frog, a crow, an owl, a cat, or a dog. The Untouchables were also forced to live outside the city.
The Sudras were considered to have been created from the feet of the creator of the heavens and their purpose in life was to serve the higher classes. They were not allowed to own money, sit with a Brahman, touch him with their hand, or read the sacred books.
The original religion of India was Hinduism. However, with time a more general state religion was created incorporating Buddhism and other faiths as well as Hinduism. So deeply engrained into this society did polytheism become that it is recorded that by the sixth century C.E. the inhabitants of this land had adopted over 330 million gods (L.S.S. O'Malley, Popular Hinduism, the Religion of the Masses, Cambridge, 1935, pp. 6-7). During this era, anything grand, or anything wonderful, or anything useful was worshipped as a god.
The Arabian Peninsula
The Arabs during this century has sunk to a very low state. They became obsessed with intoxicants, gambling, and idol worship. Girls became such a disgraceful commodity among them that they would bury their infant girls alive for fear of disgrace.
Women in this society became a commodity that was inherited by her husband's heirs just as they would inherit his money or livestock. Men could marry an unlimited number of women, and would sometimes kill their own children if they feared they would cause them poverty. The men would further designate specific foods that were for their personal consumption and prohibited upon their wives or children.
Slavery and treachery were rampant throughout the land. Tribal feudalism became commonplace, and great battles would be waged over the outcome of a horse race or other trivial matters. Over the centuries, the house that Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael had built in Makkah (the Kaaba) was taken by these people as home for their idols and their pagan worship. By the time Muhammad (pbuh) came, 360 idols had been fashioned and placed inside and around the Kaaba, and the surrounding tribes had distorted the pilgrimage first instituted by prophet Abraham into a pagan ritual of running naked around these idols while whistling and clapping. The pagans of Arabia continued to believe in God, however, they regarded Him as the "supreme" god and felt it necessary to set up "intermediary" gods (idols) who would "intercede" with God/Allah for them.